How would you feel if I told you that honesty has the power to improve your health?
You see the thing is that throughout our lives we have heard phrases and idioms such as honesty is the best policy. Our parents, our schoolteachers, our elders have always talked about how important honesty is for us. Similarly, the most active and assertive emphasis on honesty has come from different religious teachings. Sacred texts within the Bible, The Quran or other religious faiths have emphasized repeatedly that honesty is important. We have examples of great leaders and influential personalities of the past that lived a life of honesty and integrity. People who even sacrificed their lives because this one attribute of honesty was embedded in their philosophy on life.
There are numerous quotes and sayings from ancient wisdom to the men and women we consider to be wise. Most of us, if not all would agree that honesty is an essential quality of a good leader. And I am also sure that most would agree that honesty helps build trust between you and another person. Trust in turn between people, countries etc. leads to a foundation on which great things can be achieved.
Trust is essential in business. Many have written and I believe nobody would argue that business is not about relationships. In fact, everything we do in our life comprises of interactions with others. They may be social, personal, or professional, but they all require an exchange between two or more people. Trust enables openness, acceptance between the two parties. There is no organization, business or person that has gone on lying and cheating others with false information for too long. From organizations like Enron, to people that have cheated, lied, and engaged in deceit for long have eventually been found out. And once that reputation erodes with a breach of trust people stop opening up to the individual. Lack of trust builds walls. Trust builds bridges.
Exploitation, cheating, stealing do the opposite. Personally, I have been at the receiving end of targeted hate more than a couple of times just because of this reason. I have been called self-righteous or even misjudged as someone who has a holier than thou attitude for believing in and living with honesty and integrity. I have even come across people that think that I am living in fairy tale for having these ideals. But I have always believed that honesty really does do you a lot better than the difficulties you may have to face in the short term. I genuinely believe that it is a wiser, a smarter way to exist. Until sometime ago all I had in the argument for honesty were subjective examples of great leaders, prophets and subjective experiences of building quality friendships and relationships.
But what if I told you that dishonesty has a very direct, measurable, and objective impact on your health? In this blog, I will share some research which indicates the impact of dishonesty on our biology. People think they can lie, put up a facade, be pretentious in their personal and professional lives and think they can get away with it. Some might even have this perception that they are too smart, too clever to fool others, to beat the system. Yes, unfortunately, there are people like that in this world and I am sure we all have come across one or two of them throughout our lives.
But what if I told you that dishonesty takes the light or the shine away from your face. It creates an aura of negative energy around you and within you. Nobody likes dishonest people and while you may be able to fool or deceive a few a people a couple of times you simply cannot get away all the time. Dishonesty makes you weak. It deteriorates your physical health. Has a detrimental impact on long term cardiovascular health, your self-esteem takes a hit and it is powerful enough to put you in a perpetual state of anxiety, depression, and guilt, thereby lowering your vibrational frequency of emotions.
You see our biology is constructed in a way that our bodies react negatively to dishonesty and positively to honesty. It has a direct impact on our health. Have you ever noticed how you feel when you are not so truthful about something? It increases your heart rate. It dilates your pupils. These are some of the things they check for when they put you on a polygraph test. Do you understand what that means for your physiology? It means that every time you engage in deception, something biologically is taking place within your body. It is this biological process that is harmful to your well-being. A paper titled ‘The physiology of (dis)honesty: does it impact health?’(Link) published in Current Opinion in Psychology in 2015 states that dishonesty has a variety of detrimental effects on human biology. The paper presents findings from a study that a dishonest act creates three reactions within the brain, the body and the biology which may or may not be consciously experienced. These biomarkers were gauged from functional differences in brain MRIs, changes in heart rate, cardiac efficiency and increase in cortisol levels. The research found that whenever a dishonest act was performed or observed by an individual either by performing the act themselves or by silently observing dishonest acts performed by others caused the following changes within the body.
- Depletion of executive control regions of the brain
- Elevated heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure
- Increased cortisol reactivity
- High levels of freely available testosterone
Cortisol is a catabolic (i.e. cell breaking down) hormone secreted in the body and is linked to chronic stress, cellular death, systemic inflammation, increase in CRP (i.e. C-Reactive Protein) which increases with inflammation in the body. Chronically elevated or poorly regulated cortisol is detrimental to health. Prolonged long-term effects of elevated blood pressure and elevated heart rate can create a range of diseases in the body. Having elevated levels of cortisol result in increased cellular breakdown. While in the short term the effects might not be very noticeable but over longer periods this can cause a plethora of diseases related to anxiety, stress, and ageing.
On the other hand, a depletion of the executive control regions of the brain negatively impacts, planning and decision-making abilities, error correction, and troubleshooting, our ability to cope with dangerous or technically difficult situations, and situations that require overcoming habitual response or resisting temptation. This indicates that over extended periods of time people that engage in dishonest acts harm themselves. Think about it from a business perspective or on a personal level (i.e. as an employee, manager, leader). In a world where there is so much competition can you really afford to damage your abilities? Wouldn’t you want to rather improve your abilities and create a competitive advantage? I think the answer to that is clear.
Honesty does the opposite of the above. It improves your self-confidence, it reduces stress and fatigue, reduces anxiety and when you have more self-confidence you are able to tackle difficult situations and crises far better than a person who engages in deception and dishonesty. Honesty, further builds trust, gains you loyalty, good friends, and quality relationships. Honesty is not only the best policy. It is a healthier and therefore a more smart, sustainable way to exist.